Author Archive

Higher Wage Costs Mean Reassigning Responsibilities

Concern with pending higher hourly wage costs in Ontario, especially when Christian bookstore employees somewhat ‘donate’ their time by working for minimum wage, means stores need to rethink everything in terms of how basic store assignments are carried out. If everyone is working for minimum, those stores are facing a considerable increase in wage costs. (This is why we do a 1% wage increase every 6 pays, or every 12 weeks. It also acts as a form of employee retention.)

Being in a small(er) market means we’ve been forced to operate on a shoestring for quite some time, though our staff — all part time — are better paid than many in our industry. With some input from some other stores I worked with, here’s what’s in our secret sauce.

  1. Efficiency is a must. Every decision is made with recognition of how it fits with the bottom line. There is very little expenditure that might be considered waste.
  2. If we’re in the store, the sign is changed to ‘OPEN’ even if we’re arriving early ostensibly to work on some other project. We want to capture every possible sale.
  3. On the other hand, our store hours are basic. We do 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM. I’ve been in stores that are open to 6:00 PM and watched them losing money day after day during that last hour. Our staff will stay late to help customers and people can phone to say they get off work at 5:00 and will pick up their order at 5:10. We’re fine with that and we pay the staff for waiting. Nobody gets chased out at closing time. Nobody flashes the lights. But we maximize those seven hours by focusing customers into a narrower time period. (This isn’t without precedent; last year we were made aware of a rather high profile store that was opening at 11:00 daily.)
  4. There is no back room. Only one of our stores really ever had one, though another one had a basement. But everything from administration to order check-in to packing parcels for mail-orders was always and is now carried out full view of customers. They know we’re there if they have questions, we know they’re in the store. (This also means more of our monthly rent goes to square footage which can be productive.)
  5. Orders are checked in within minutes of arriving. That means the knife is often already cutting the sealing tape before the UPS driver has typed in our information. Orders are retrieved first, and customers are phoned or emailed before we’ve even formally confirmed prices on the invoice or added price stickers. Merchandise is available for purchase immediately and only boxes for future sales or remainder shipments are allowed to be an exception to this.
  6. Staffing levels are minimal. Sometimes this means asking regular customers to come back if our usual service standard can’t be reached within the ten minutes following. In-store customers come first; phone calls are returned when there is a break.
  7. We avoid specialized job descriptions. Basically everybody does everything, with the exceptions being required to climb great heights or lift heavy boxes. I no longer feel I need the one to call in every order or deal with every damage or short-shipment claim.
  8. Advertising needs to be productive. That’s why coupon advertising is the very best; you get to gauge the results. Our primary product is print so we favour print advertising; newspapers, etc.
  9. We have a comfortable shopping environment, but we recognize that customers in bulky coats coming in from the cold will find the store warmer than it might appear to staff. We don’t wanting staff to get sick, but we scale back on heat. Similarly, in the summer we often hold back the air conditioning until noon. After rent and wages, electricity is our biggest expense.
  10. The money is in the bank at the end of the day. Many stores do a midday deposit the day following, but we pay our staff members a time and mileage allowance (consisting of one quarter hour) to deposit anything over $150 at the bank. When we had 3 stores that meant we had 11 bank machine cards in use. (Cards are set as deposit-only.) This allows us to make late-day (but on-time) payments to our various suppliers and utilities.

These savings allow us to pay staff well, and they also mean we can stock inventory carefully but more aggressively. (We’re known for our great selection on frontlist and backlist.)

The proposed increase in the Ontario minimum wage doesn’t scare us. The philosophy behind it is honorable; where the province has erred is in introducing too much too quickly. Would I feel the same if we still had three stores and more student help? First of all, I would not have hired students. Hiring mature staff from among our customer base has turned out to be one of our best decisions. It also means I have people better able to deal with the ‘issues of life’ that customers want addressed. In a multi-store environment with central receiving and pricing, it means that staff need to be busy and if they aren’t, it’s time to find out why.


Skye Jethani’s Church Analysis May Interest More Than Just Leadership

Those of have heard Skye Jethani speak, be it a sermon, conference message, or podcast conversation, know him to both extremely forthright and wonderfully articulate on matters related to church and culture. He brings this gift to a new book, Immeasurable: Reflections on the Soul of Ministry in the Age of Church, Inc. released last week by Moody Press.

The book is a series of 24 short essays on various aspects of church and ministry leadership; interconnected, but presented such they can be studied in any order. While I have heard him touch on many of these before, as assembled here, much of this material was new to me.

Skye Jethani’s forté is analysis, and a major part of his analytical toolkit is a knowledge of the broader sweep of modern church history, some of this no doubt afforded by his years serving in various departments of Christianity Today, Inc. and as a local church pastor. While much ink has been spilled over the last 20 years lamenting the state of the modern church in North America, Australia/New Zealand and Western Europe, the words here are more prescriptive; a look at where the church may have lost its way presented alongside healthy doses of routes we might take to get back on track. Each essay ends with two or three “next step” questions or applications.

Some standout chapters for me — many of which were brought to life through some clever analogies — included:

1. Ambition (and motivation; always a good place to start)
3. Wastefulness (versus efficiency which can enslave us)
6. Dramas (there are three playing out in church leadership)
8. Simplicity (versus the complexity we see everywhere else, discussed in chapter 9)
9. Complexity (the longest chapter in the book; Jethani at his best)
10. Redundancy (an interesting approach to the matter of pastoral succession)
12. Illumination (another longer chapter; on sermon expectation and who might preach)
15. Platform (this chapter is gold; a look at how we confer authority in the local church)
16. Celebrity (analysis of the rise of the “Evangelical Industrial Complex”)
18. Consumers (again, I preferred the longer chapters; this one is about church choices; some of the other chapters not listed I would like to have seen fleshed out in greater detail.)

And then there was chapter 24, an even more autobiographical essay which strikes at the heart of ministry from the author’s early experiences as a hospital chaplain. A fitting ending in so many respects.

On a personal level, if I’ve learned nothing else in the last 20 years, I’ve learned that while ecclesiology is by definition the domain of pastors, books about ecclesiology are widely read by a variety of lay-people who who feel a sense of ownership in the local churches in their community. With so much reconstruction taking place in the look, feel and purpose of weekend gatherings; many want to champion these changes while others are fearful of going too far and thereby losing the plot. So while the book is being marketed more as an academic title for Bible college or classroom discussion, I think the finished product is something I would encourage many of my friends to read.

Read a short sample from Immeasurable at this link.

Related: Skye Jethani on news and media.

Related: A review of the 2012 title, With.

Photo: Skye Jethani on the weekly Phil Vischer podcast.

Thanks to Martin Smith at Parasource Distribution & Marketing for a review copy of Immeasurable.

Christian Bookstores are Department Stores

October 13, 2017 1 comment

While our motivation for unlocking the doors each morning may be that we see our stores as local ministry centres, we are also retail businesses, with the exception of a handful that are using a non-profit model. Our business sector is retail which puts us in company with every other type of retailer across the continent.

For that reason, the announced closing of Sears Canada should at least give us a moment’s pause. Perhaps not coincidentally, my UPS driver said something yesterday about the number of daily deliveries he’s doing is resulting in 12-hour days. Jokingly, I said, “So you’re working for Amazon;” to which he replied, “Well, I’m definitely not working for Sears.” No one reading this has escaped the reality of a changing retail landscape.

We are not only in retail, but like Sears, we are essentially department stores. In addition to books, most of us stock jewelry, t-shirts, wall art, greeting cards, DVDs, CDs, toys, picture frames, kitchenware and much more. Some stores are also, to varying degrees, still identifiable as Church supply stores, with non-consumer items such as bulletins, communion ware, and at this time of year, candles.

So we have to realize the vulnerability of the department store model. Looking at just Canada alone, consider the casualties of the last two generations in an approximate chronological order:

  • Eatons
  • Simpsons
  • Towers
  • Sayvette
  • K-Mart Canada
  • Bi-Way
  • Consumer’s Distributing (catalogue store model)
  • Woodward’s (western Canada)
  • Woolco (and Woolworth’s)
  • Marks and Spencer Canada
  • Sam’s Club (a division of Wal-Mart)
  • Zellers
  • Big Lots Canada
  • XS Cargo
  • Target Canada
  • Sears Canada

Frightening, isn’t it?  (See a more exhaustive list at Wikipedia.)  In terms of specialty stores, how many in your community have lasted more than 20 years? If we’re honest, we have to agree that new stores and restaurants popping up mean that old stores and restaurants closed.

So every time you read an article about what went wrong at Sears Canada, ask yourself if there’s anything there that might apply to your store.

I know in my case there’s a number of things in terms of visual presentation I’d like to update, but time, money and the constraints of the physical location make that difficult right now.

Related: The YouTube channel Retail Archeology looks at dying shopping malls and retail chains. This was filmed a year ago in reference to the U.S. Sears chain. If you have spare time (!) look around the rest of the videos on this channel.


Ottawa Proposes to Tax Employee Discounts

[Note: See update below]

CBC News posted this late in the day on Tuesday:

Revenue Canada to tax employee discounts but Ottawa says it’s not ‘targeting’ retail workers


2 million retail workers could now face new taxes on merchandise purchased with an employee discount


The national revenue minister says she is not looking to target the country’s retail workers, even after the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) issued guidelines to business owners that could pave the way for new taxes on merchandise purchased with an employee discount.

The CRA said in a document posted on its website that discounts for merchandise should be treated as a taxable benefit. The tax collector said that when an employee receives a discount on merchandise — as a benefit of their employment — the value of the discount should be included in the employee’s income at tax time.

“However, no amount is included in the employee’s income if the discount is also available to the general public or to specific public groups,” CRA said in its “folio,” a document written in plain language and disseminated to employers to help them interpret the tax code…

But here’s a baffling part of the CBC story:

According to the agency’s website, the change is effective as of the 2017 tax year.

Wait, what? Have you been recording those amounts? Do you even have a mechanism whereby you could search back and obtain that information?

Pierre Poilievre, the Conservative finance critic, said it’s “insanity” that workers will have to document all the discounts they receive on merchandise each year under the new interpretation.

He said if all discounts are not documented, it could turn regular law-abiding Canadians into tax cheats.

“Hardworking, low-income, wage-earning retail workers should not have to pay tax on the small employee discounts they receive, this tax will actually cost more to administer and enforce than it will raise in revenue but it’s perfectly consistent with Justin Trudeau’s uncontrollable addiction to spending.

“He’s running out of other people’s money and now he’s asking CRA to find him more,” he said.

click here to read the full piece at CBC News with a video report…  

Update: From the Financial Post:

Amid uproar, feds remove employee-discount tax and call for consultation

The federal government appears to be doing away with a controversial tax policy interpretation that would have seen employees taxed for discounts they get at work.

Amid a growing controversy, a spokesman for the National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier says the government will pull the new wording at the heart of the debate from the Canada Revenue Agency website.

John Power says the government is planning to hold an internal review on the wording change, which will be followed by a consultation on the issue with industry groups.

The decision to restore the old wording comes after strong objections from business associations that warned the change would lead to new taxes on retail workers, many of whom earn modest wages.

The industry groups also say the new wording would have created significant administrative burdens for employers, who would be required to track employee benefits…


Categories: Uncategorized

Both New and Existing Christian Retailers Filling the Family Christian Stores Void

Publisher’s Weekly has a great article profiling new stores which are opening in the wake of the Family Christian Stores closures; some in the very same locations.

Nearly eight months after Family Christian Stores—the largest Christian retail chain in the U.S.—began closing the first of its 240 outlets and going bankrupt, other booksellers have begun to fill in the gaps left by the retailer’s absence. With stores in 36 states across the U.S., Family Christian initiated its closures in February, and the last store closed in May…

Later in the article they also look at the impact on existing stores which weren’t part of the chain.

…In addition to making room for entrepreneurs to open new stores, FCS’s closure has affected existing bookstores as well. Lifeway Christian Stores expanded into four new locations that were previously occupied by Family Christian. The chain, which has over 170 locations, already overlapped with over 140 former FCS outlets, and it has no plans for expansion in other locations, a Lifeway spokesperson told PW.

Sue Smith, manager of Baker Book House in Grand Rapids, Mich. and president of the CBA (the Association for Christian Retail), said Baker’s sales increased 20% following the chain’s closing compared to the same time in 2016. Three FCS locations shuttered in Grand Rapids in April, followed by several more along the West Michigan Lakeshore. Baker, which is independently owned, was able to tap into FCS’s church customer base, and it now stocks products such as communion ware and curriculum…

click here to read the article in full with pictures of the new stores

Photo: Publisher’s Weekly on Twitter

Do Customers Help Choose Book Covers?

I haven’t received one lately, but a few times I’ve been sent a survey link to ‘help’ a publisher choose the best image for a forthcoming title. Art departments invest much time and energy in this process to ensure the highest possible response to physical product in stores and also online purchases.

The cynic in me however thinks this is just part of an overall marketing strategy to cause some potential readers who are on a select mailing list feel invested in the project and build traction.  If so, it’s a brilliant marketing move, and one others could consider. Perhaps the cover has already been chosen at this stage. Eventually, they chose something a little different, though the mountains and the automobile were seen in the choices above.

While we’re at it, here’s another example in our ongoing list of “Christian Title Shortage” images. The MacArthur book was released in 2012 by David C. Cook. I guess it wasn’t considered a potential source of title confusion. It’s a reminder to bookstore buyers to always read the listings carefully. This is why I like to see images before hastily copying an ISBN.

Amish Peace: My First Ever Audio Book Experience

I don’t know offhand if the Amish permit what’s called here “Agritourism” — in other words farm tours — but I have something that would be of greater interest than seeing the hay lofts or furniture making workshop. I’d like to sit down with an Amish elder and discuss the underlying faith, specifically their faith and how it informs their customers. It beats driving around Lancaster, PA and going, “Over there! It’s another one!” and then snapping camera-phone pictures of these precious people simply trying to live their lives in peace.

This week, I got a bit of an insight into the type of information I’m seeking. When an audio book came in missing the shrink-wrap usually found on audio products1 I considered the idea of listening to a few minutes of it as, despite the various podcasts and sermons I listen to constantly, I have no personal experience with audio books.

Then I discovered the book was voiced by none other than Christian Taylor, one of the regulars at The Phil Vischer Podcast.2 I decided to see (or hear) what her vocational labor produced.

The audio was for the book Amish Peace: Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World by Susanne Woods Fisher.3 Interspersing Amish proverbs with anecdotal stores would make this a fun read, but it was probably a bit of a challenge voicing a reading of the book.

Putting it as simply as I can, there is a world here which, while it may seem strikingly different to observe as a tourist, is actually more different than you think in terms of the underlying principles which guide everyday life in an Amish family and an Amish community. They live out an ethic which is certainly rooted in the Sermon on the Mount and other teachings of Jesus, but in many respects almost goes beyond that high standard in terms of everyday life.4

Even if I could embed myself in an Amish family for a week, I don’t know that I could ever expect to fully get it without having spent a lifetime being educated and shaped by their community values, passed on from generation to generation. They live in a world without electronic media and yet possess a wisdom many of the rest of us cannot imagine. Their formal education ends at Grade 8, yet they have better literacy rates than in other neighboring rural areas. Their children are given responsibilities that would boggle the minds of parents who bubble-wrap their kids in the cities, such as driving a team of mules to plow a field.5 And their pace of life means they see things which the rest of miss while driving Interstate freeways at 70 mph.

I enjoyed the (audio) book, but I find myself wanting more; more than I can get from simply packing up the car and heading off to Amish country or Mennonite country to simply look at them.6

I want to take a month and be them.7

1To my readers in other countries: For years records, tapes and CDs in North America have come plastic-wrapped, as we don’t want to get to get germs, at least that’s what a record vendor in England told me years ago.

2As in “…We’ll talk to Skye and Christian, too, but we’ve got no guest this week for you…” (Show theme song.) Christian is a voice actor.

3Oops! Fisher wrote Amish Peace in 2009. In an earlier version of this blog post, I identified the book as The Heart of the Amish which she wrote in 2015. This appears to be a different book, not a title update. My bad.

4The stories about forgiveness will break you.

5Full disclosure: The book admits this freedom results in a much higher rate of Emergency Room visits due to injuries compared to other children in rural areas.

6Pennsylvania or Ohio or Western Ontario would be the destinations of choice for such an excursion. The book notes the Ohio Amish have a lower percentage of people living in farm communities.

7I would probably not be able to give up my phone or internet connection. Today, several houses share an outdoor phone booth of sorts which is for making calls, not receiving them. That would be somewhat insufficient.

Christian responds:

Related: A 2010 article I wrote about the Amish and the concept of being separated from the world.

Photos: Daily Encouragement by Stephen & Brooksyne Weber.

Categories: Uncategorized

Wiarton’s Vision Christian Books and Gifts Closes

When Thanksgiving rolls around in a few days, Paula and Tom Hetherington will no doubt be reflecting on another Thanksgiving weekend, in 1996, when Vision Christian Books and Gifts opened in Wiarton, Ontario, in the Bruce Peninsula. The Southwestern Ontario store recently closed after 21 years. Furthermore, for six years, from 2003-2009, Paula ran a second store in Port Elgin.

Recently the Wiarton Echo paid tribute to their years serving people through the store.

…The pair expanded the store’s reach by shipping books to a general store in Tobermory for several years, saving residents there the travel.

If they didn’t have a book someone was looking for, they ordered it in.

“Paula could find anything,” Tom said.

“I saw at the store that I could make a difference,” Paula said.

Her biggest legacy, she said, was her work collecting and personally preparing about 50 annual Christmas boxes for children, which held school supplies, personal hygiene items and mitts, scarves and other items she hand-knitted…

…The couple helped with construction of a medical centre after a flood in Port-au-Prince in Haiti in 1997 and an orphanage in Mexico in 2001, where Paula was introduced to the Christmas box program.

Once home, Paula ran the Christmas box campaign with enthusiasm at Vision for nearly 20 years.

Heatherington said when she put the Christmas boxes in the store window, it would attract people into the store who would then participate.

“We would fill the windows,” Tom said. “One year we had 500.”

When asked about his own legacy, Tom said he appreciated being able to recommend books to new Christians. “It was nice to have that influence and ability,” he said.

After two decades at the bookstore, “The transition hasn’t been easy…”

Read the full story at Wiarton Echo.

photo credit: Wiarton Echo


Categories: Uncategorized

Hot Apple Cider Brand Expands With First Seasonal Title

October 2, 2017 1 comment

Canada’s most popular Christian anthology brand has released its first seasonal title. Here’s the info from That’s Life Communications:

Christmas with Hot Apple Cider: Stories from the Season of Giving and Receiving is an eclectic collection of true stories, short fiction, and poetry.

You’ll delight in stories about:

  • An immigrant family puzzling over unfamiliar North American customs
  • Grandparents passing down a family tradition to a young grandchild
  • An octogenarian remembering the day receiving a Christmas gift was nothing short of a miracle
  • A Jewish woman sharing her childhood longing for the joy of Christmas
  • An Old Order Mennonite teen experiencing Handel’s Messiah live at Massey Hall
  • A writer struggling to create a meaningful presentation about the innkeeper
  • A teacher witnessing the joy of a simple gift at a Nigerian orphanage

The book features work by 55 writers from across Canada who survived a rigorous competition to be included. As you discover a fresh appreciation for the holiday season, you might even be inspired to share your own stories.

With 62 heartfelt accounts of the true meaning of Christmas, this anthology is sure to fill even the grouchiest Scrooge with holiday spirit.

Canadian retailers: Order from Parasource Marketing and Distribution.

Time of Year Books

There are points on the calendar where the time is right to give someone a particular book. With the first month of school now history, many kids in Junior High and Middle School face various challenges and some are no doubt frustrated.

The book pictured on the left is new from Revell. But the market is limited to guys which represent 50% of all possible readers, but only about 25% of the kids who really read at that age. (Though in the case, need to know may spark greater interest.) It’s been packaged and branded similar to the author’s Manual to Manhood. If boys do struggle with reading, this book promises 100 topics in “bite size” portions.

The book on the right covers both male and female students, but was published by Concordia in 2010 in a genre where advice can become easily outdated after more than 5 years. However it’s shorter (128 pages and also lower priced) which should appeal to kids who are mostly non-readers. (I especially like its cover design, though many schools now use whiteboards.)

But both are timely and will resonate with students having a tough school year.

Trusting Your Publishers

I greatly appreciate how the overseas Christian online vendor Koorong defends its choices of products by appealing to the integrity of their partner publishers.  (That’s what many of us do at our stores here.) Apparently they love it as well, to the point of rendering it the type of code that is impossible to copy and paste. But here at Christian Book Shop Talk, we’ll spare no effort in order to bring you content worth reading. So here’s a screenshot, presented for educational purposes only:


Categories: Uncategorized

Review: God’s Crime Scene for Kids

If you think apologetics isn’t for kids, J. Warner Wallace, author of Cold Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene would have you think differently. The former book was spun off into a kids edition and earlier in the year, some friends surprised me with the news that they were suspending their usual Sunday School curriculum for one quarter, and instead take the 13 weeks to look at Cold Case Christianity for Kids.

That was enough to make me take a second look when a package arrived containing a copy of God’s Crime Scene for Kids.

While the first book (in either the adult or children’s series) looks at the evidence for the resurrection, the second looks at creation, or the evidence for what some call intelligent design. Can my friends’ 9-12 year-olds absorb that?

With his trademark illustrations, J. Warner Wallace offers entirely new analogies to help kids see the trail of evidence leading to a creator. There are more pictures than the adult edition, but these images help bridge the distance between ostensibly difficult content and a child’s imagination. There is also a website with supporting videos for each chapter hosted by the author.

Let me suggest an analogy of my own. Parents often ask me about the difference between the NIV Bible and the NIrV Bible for children. I explain that for easy readability, the latter uses shorter sentences and a reduced vocabulary, but when it comes to people names, place names and the storyline itself, there are some things that can’t be dumbed down or tampered with.

Similarly, Wallace tosses out terms like causation and reasonable inference like they were after-school snacks, but only because he’s convinced that in the context of the book they’re holding in their hands kids can grasp these concepts. (A cat named Simba bears some of the responsibility for keeping the story accessible to young minds.) He gives kids credit for being able to understand more than we might estimate.

Which brings me to my conclusion: I think God’s Crime Scene for Kids isn’t just for kids. I think there are adults who struggle with the idea of understanding apologetics who would never read Wallace’s longer, adult book. Furthermore, I think there are people reading this who can think of one friend to whom they could say, “I got this book for your kids, but I want you to read it before you pass it on to them.”

I think the presence of a book like this could open a lot of doors to discussion that would cut across all age lines.


The full title is God’s Crime Scene: Investigate Creation with a Real Detective, David C. Cook, 2017; 144 pages, paperback.

A copy of the book was provided by David C. Cook in Colorado Springs, CO